Tuberose, or Rajnigandha as it’s called in Hindi, is my mother’s favourite flower. In Delhi, one of my father’s friends, when invited for dinner, would bring a bouquet of fresh tuberoses for my mother as a thank you. And then for the next day or so, a cool elusive smell would float in the living room – sweet, dewy and incredibly beautiful.That is my first memory of smelling tuberoses and it has been my favourite flower too, since.
I have realized that a scent experience can never be objective. And I am not just referring to individual differences in perception. The adjectives attributed to a scent seem to be heavily influenced by familiarity as well as cultural associations. I used to be puzzled by the discrepancies between various scent descriptions, but I have finally made sense of atleast some of them. One of them is the smell of tuberose. I associate tuberose with the cool night breeze in Bangalore. Wafting in from the balcony, mixing with the scent of tuberoses and the sundry conversations on the diwan. Thus, I have always described tuberose as ‘cool’ while many perfume bloggers describe its scent as warm. Neither is inaccurate. Associations, personal and cultural, act as a sort of magnifying glass. Or as a seive. Clinging to or magnifying the different nuances of a smell.
Indian Tuberose Absolute smells densely sweet. Green, sweetly like condensed milk, it can be a little cloying, unlike the more crystalline sweetness of the freshly cut flower. Yet, the absolute retains a complexity that could probably allow it to stand alone as a perfume. I haven’t tried this, but I imagine that if I crushed a stalk of tuberose, leaves, stem and all, it would smell more like the first whiff of the absolute. There is also an added hint of milk and a warm sensuality that is even more pronounced on the skin than on paper. After a few minutes on my skin, tuberose absolute smells considerably less green- sweeter, softer and more reminiscent of the olfactory memory of my favorite flower. Not quite touching its soaring quality, yet mysterious, haunting and beautiful.
Tuberose absolute is used as a middle note in perfume. My favorite use of this note is in Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle. The camphorous, menthol-like beginning, though unpleasant to many, serves to highlight the distinct coolness of the tuberose and sets the stage for the dewy sweetness that follows.
Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/buttersweet/47560433/ via Creative Commons